Paolo Garbisi has achieved something that very few Italian players have done before him according to Italy head coach Kieran Crowley.
The Azzurri fly-half will be one of the key figures in the upcoming Guinness Six Nations and arrives full of confidence having established himself as first choice at Montpellier in the Top 14 following a move last summer.
In doing so, the 21-year-old has moved ahead of South African World Cup winner Handre Pollard in the pecking order, and Crowley has been impressed by how his former Benetton charge has managed the transition, likening him to legendary skipper Sergio Parisse in his ability to thrive in France at such a young age.
Speaking at the launch of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations, Crowley said: “On Paolo, I think it was great that he’s gone to Montpellier. It’s given him a different culture and way to play the game. The way Montpellier play is different to the way he used to play in Benetton. Montpellier have a no-risk policy, if you watch their games, they have a massive forward pack, they kick a lot for territory.
“So he has progressed and learned to play the game in a different way. His challenge, because he’s still only a young man, will be to adapt to different styles of play. We will play different to how Benetton played and how Montpellier play.
“He will have to challenge himself to change his mindset in certain areas, and he will, I’m sure. He’s a professional player who works hard at his game. He’s an exciting prospect moving forwards. He’s achieved something that not many Italians have achieved. Apart from Sergio Parisse and there might be one or two others who were playing consistently in the Top 14 in France at such a young age.”
Italy will kick off their campaign away to France in Paris in their first Championship game under Crowley’s leadership.
The New Zealander took charge of the team for the first time in the Autumn Nations Series as Italy ended a 16-game losing streak with victory over Uruguay. And while he admits the performance was far from perfect, he hopes the result can inspire the side.
He added: “We had a win and I don’t care how you get a win, if you get a win, it’s a win. It’s Test match rugby. Even though the performance wasn’t great, we’ve got to use that result as a springboard.
“There’s some newer players in now. Hopefully we can use the knowledge of a win against Uruguay to move forwards now.”
Meanwhile Michele Lamaro, who will captain the side in the Championship for the first time, is excited at the prospect of leading the team.
He added: “It’s a massive chance for me to get connected with the whole group, to manage the leadership group. It’s the big challenge for me off the field. I have to preserve my energy on the field and perform as I want. It’s my first Six Nations as a captain so I’m really excited to start.
“It’s going to be a difficult challenge but I’m sure the group will stick together and move forwards.”